Suu Kyi defends court decision to jail Reuters reporters

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is seen while she waits for a meeting with Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace during the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi, Vietnam September 13, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 13 September 2018

Suu Kyi defends court decision to jail Reuters reporters

HANOI: Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday robustly defended the jailing of two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the Rohingya crisis, as she hit back at global criticism of a trial widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the free press.
The country’s de facto leader acknowledged that the brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority — which the United Nations has cast as “genocide” — could have been “handled better,” but insisted the two reporters had been treated fairly.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists” but because “the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each imprisoned for seven years last week for breaching the country’s hard-line Official Secrets Act while reporting on atrocities committed during the military crackdown in Rakhine state.
Suu Kyi, once garlanded as a global rights champion, has come under intense pressure to use her moral authority inside Myanmar to defend the pair.
Challenging critics of the verdict — including the UN, rights groups who once lionized her, and the US Vice President — to “point out” where there has been a miscarriage of justice, Suu Kyi said the case upheld the rule of law.
“The case was held in open court... I don’t think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge,” she said during a discussion at the World Economic Forum, adding the pair still had the right to appeal.
Her comments drew an indignant response from rights groups who have urged the Nobel Laureate to press for a presidential pardon for the reporters.
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Aung San Suu Kyi to defend the indefensible,” said Amnesty International’s Minar Pimple, describing the leader’s comments as “a deluded misrepresentation of the facts.”
“The international condemnation heading Aung San Suu Kyi’s way is fully deserved, she should be ashamed.”
Sean Bain, of the International Commission of Jurists, said: “Open courts are designed to shed light on the justice process.”
“Sadly in this case we’ve seen both institutional and individual failings to hold up the principles of rule of law and human rights.”
Army-led “clearance operations” that started last August drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Myanmar police and troops.
The ferocity of that crackdown has thrust Myanmar into a firestorm of criticism as Western goodwill evaporates toward a country ruled by a ruthless junta until 2015.
A UN fact-finding panel has called for Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and several other top generals to be prosecuted for genocide.
The International Criminal Court has said it has jurisdiction to open an investigation, even though Myanmar is not a member of the tribunal.
Suu Kyi, who has bristled at foreign criticism of her country, on Thursday softened her defense of the crackdown against “terrorists” from the Muslim minority.
“There are of course ways (in) which, in hindsight, the situation could have been handled better,” she said.
But she also appeared to turn responsibility onto neighboring Bangladesh for failing to start the repatriation of the nearly one million-strong Rohingya refugee community to Myanmar.
Bangladesh “was not ready” to start repatriation of the Rohingya in January as agreed under a deal between the two countries, she said.
Yet Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship while the Buddhist-majority public falsely label them “Bengali” interlopers.
Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar without guarantees of safety, restitution for lost lands and citizenship.
The jailing of the Reuters reporters has sent a chill through Myanmar’s nascent media scene.
The pair denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the village of Inn Din in September last year.
This week, the UN rights office accused Myanmar of “waging a campaign against journalists.”
It decried the use of the courts and the law by the “government and military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism.”
A UN panel is set to release the second part of its report into the atrocities over the coming days.
Myanmar will come under international spotlight again on September 25 when the UN General Assembly convenes in New York.
Local media have reported that Suu Kyi will not be attending the New York meeting.


Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

Updated 24 October 2020

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

  • There has been an upsurge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country
  • The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path toward withdrawing American troops from the conflict

KABUL: A suicide bomber struck near an education centre in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 18 people in the latest attack to rock the conflict-wracked country.
Violence on the ground has spiked in recent weeks despite the Taliban and the Afghan government holding peace talks in Qatar to end the country's grinding war.
The suicide attack, which also wounded 57, happened late afternoon at the centre, which offers training and courses for students in higher education in a western district of Kabul.
"A suicide bomber wanted to enter the education centre," Tareq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
"But he was identified by the centre's guards after which he detonated his explosives in an alley."
He said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.
"I was standing about 100 metres from the centre when a big blast knocked me down," said local resident Ali Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin who was wounded in the blast.
"Dust and smoke was all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre."
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, often targeted by Daesh militants. 
In the past, extremists have targeted several education centres and other facilities in the area.
In May, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight attack on a hospital in west Kabul that left several mothers dead. The gunmen were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.